Tamer Animals 9 ( 2011 )
Dark Horse / As I Lay My Head Down / For 12 / Tamer Animals / Dust Bowl III / Weather / Old Statues / Woodwind / Desert / Landforms / Heading East
Stillwater, Okla five piece 'Other Lives' have arrived to enrich your miserable existences. The gas is now inflammable, and it's not possible. Piano, bassoon, bass clarinet, violin, trumpet, French horn and cello all harmonise. 'Other Lives' spent well over a year crafting this record and you can tell, but thankfully, it never sounds over-worked. It's like Moody Blues crossed with early Arcade Fire, and as such, comes across as one of the most magically majestic records you will ever hear in your entire life, when it's at its best. I forgot that people had forgotten to make albums this good, you used to get one every other year - an album by a new act that you could call a friend. With the digital age, we are lucky to get one special record a decade. Some music fans are even comparing this to 'OK Computer' by Radiohead as a new note, a watermark. Course, Radiohead sold millions of albums and you've probably never even heard of 'Other Lives', but that's another story, another tale in how the record industry failed to adapt and disintegrated completely. Some people still talk about music in terms of Rock, and Rock only, even seeing fit to include an electro/disco act like Pet Shop Boys into the Rock canon, because they release albums every year or two, write songs and so forth. Such people tend to think of music as an inflexible, hard and guitar led beast, even if the music has no guitar whatsoever. As long as the music tends to make people think of something as 'Hard', or something that could be played by acoustic guitar under a subway somewhere. You could play dozens of Pet Shop Boy songs on a solo guitar, accompanied by only your own voice. On the other hand, you couldn't possibly play a single song from 'Tamer Animals'. These are not songs that exist on simple structures, although all the songs do sound deceptively simple. This is the kind of music that made me fall in love with music in the first place - you cannot possibly imagine how any of this was put together, or indeed, why.
I've had this record for about a year, and cannot review it. The first four songs border on perfection, border on being the strongest start to almost any album ever released. That the rest of the album falls somewhat short of this strong beginning is perhaps inevitable, but I cannot get myself away from the majesty of these songs. I'll rewind back to the start to listen again. I mean, we get almost the first noticeable appearance of a bass guitar on the title track, some ten minutes into the record. So far, ten minutes in, you can barely hear a single guitar, bar some simple acoustic adding mere texture. 'Dark Horse' is less than three minutes long, full of strings and wind and whispered vocals leading into the harder 'As I Lay My Head Down', but that is a song of dreams and not anything solid. 'Ooooh, whoooa, oooh' go the backing vocals and it reminds this listener of the very first song on the very first Arcade Fire album, a song some still hope in vain Arcade Fire haven't entirely forgotten about. I mentioned Moody Blues, Justin Haywayd sang 'Forever Autumn' on the 'War Of The Worlds' soundtrack, a song I love and 'As I Lay Mind Head Down' comes across as very much an indie version of same, only with added 'ooohhs' and mystery. 'For 12' is the wild-west, it's sepia tinged and very much the finest single nobody has ever heard in their lives. 'When your mind turns to fiction' he sings, after an elongated 'and it feels like forever' as if his entire heart and emotional life depended on it.
'Dust Bowl III' is lively enough to appeal to more usual types of music lovers, but still has enough of a feel, switching between acoustic and loud, orchestrated noise. 'Weather' is that song, we did, we built, we control. It's like 'Starship' and their tune 'We Built This City' only written by Nick Drake, and performed by a small string section high on misery. 'Woodwind Loop' is exactly that, yet also rich with vocal harmonies and orchestration. 'Desert' mentions the rise of sea, sleepless nights and city lives. 'Landforms' opens with Piano notes, the kind which act as percussion and not melody and the kind that pop up throughout 'Tamer Animals' and whispering vocal harmonies form a bedrock of the tune, alongside occasional booming drums. As the last tune 'Heading East' fades westwards, I'm reminded of Mercury Rev 'Deserter Songs', another special record that appeared out of seemingly nowhere. 'Heading East' is a special instrumental, the kind you'd expect during a very special film and an extremely melancholy yet also uplifting emotional moment.
Liam G London Firstly, thanks so much for reviewing this album. I regularly check your site for new reviews and this one caught my eye. Since reading your review, I've been listening to this album nonstop for a week now. Difficult to describe this album - epic, magical, luscious, haunting, gorgeous - an album drenched with melody and awe. I agree that the first four pieces are superb but would also go further to say that there's not one bad piece on the whole album.
As far as I see, one of the major themes of the album deals with climate change. The 'Dust Bowl' was probably the first major man made environmental disaster affecting major swathes of the US and Canada - in particular Oklahoma - where these guys are from. 'Weather' heralds that 'Our days are numbered, the sun is getting closer ...'. There are other ominous predictions such as 'The rise of the sea does not concern me'. For me this album holds a terrible beauty. A terrible theme with a beauty in the expression of that theme. My only gripe with the album is that the vocals could be more polished and because of that, I also rate it a 9. However, the music, theme and lyrics really shine. Really looking forward to their next offering which is due out soon.